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  HOME AND GARDEN » House Plants  

Plants for your home (By Mary Efanti)


Description - Origin

Once more its greek name describes it in detail. Leaves (and flowers) that look like swords (spathi: sword). 

Impressive foliage, relief to the touch, at the end of a thin long branch. Its white flowers, as impressive, come as the perfect distraction to the dark green foliage. Both characteristics made spaths very popular to those who love green/foliage plants as well as to those who prefer flowering plants. 

Even though spaths originated in South and Central America (mainly Colombia and Venezuela) they are today the most popular indoor plant in the U.S. and U.K. In fact, they are one of the favorite subjects of growers all over the world, so we get new varieties almost every day, the new plants having more impressive foliage, richer blooming and which are in general hardier than the plants available today. 


It is one of those great plants who adapt easily to different conditions and that's mainly the reason they are so widely used in homes, offices, restaurants and malls. 

Spaths grow not higher but wider as they age. New leaves appear among and around the base of old leaves, coming straight out of the soil. This is also the criterion to consider when buying a new plant, as this is a sign of a healthy plant that will develop well. 

If you buy spaths for their flowers, choose a plant that has at least one flower in full bloom so that you know exactly what you are buying. As we mentioned before, there are numerous varieties that differ in both the size and the color-tone of the flowers.

Spaths, like most tropicals, need excellent drainage so the soil should contain peat moss and sand and pebbles should be placed at the bottom of the pot.

You should water approximately once a week from fall till spring and 2-3 times a week during the summer months. Before you water, check the surface of the soil which should be dry to the touch. If the soil is still wet do not water because spaths are very prone to root rot. 

It needs plenty of humidity in its environment but is soil should not be wet for too long and do not let the pot sit in water. To provide additional humidity place the pot on a pebble tray but make sure it does not stand in water. If the roots stay wet for even a short period, the tips of the leaves will go yellow. If however the plant stays wet for more than 5-6 weeks its roots will rot and the plant will die. Also, if you notice yellow leaves in the center of the plant, you probably overwater so cut down on the frequency. If on the other hand, the outside leaves turn yellow, your plant is probably getting too much light.

If the soil goes dry, the leaves will wilt and hang over the pot. This could happen in as little as 2-3 days, so make sure to water regularly before your plant goes completely dry. When watering a wilted spath, you should wait for 6-16 hours until the leaves recover. This is of course the lucky guess, in case you managed to prevent worst from happening. A general indication that the plant needs more water is brown tips on the leaves or the flowers so inspect your plant often.

Spaths grow well in low light situations. Ideally, it needs plenty of filtered light, never let the plant in the sun as its leaves will get sun-burned. 

These plants do not require much in terms of fertilizing, but you can use some all purpose fertilizer to keep your plant in shape. Do that once in spring and once in the fall, when the weather cools down a little or you may even fertilize once a month from April to September as long as you use half of the dosage recommended on the label. Over fertilizing may cause serious or irreparable damage to the root system of these plants. 

In general, spaths love it warm and cold drafts will obviously delay its growth. Low temperatures can damage both the leaves and the root system of the plant. To avoid that, do not place spaths next to heat producing equipment like radiators or TV sets which will additionally deprive the plant of much needed humidity.

Ideal temperatures for spaths are between 21-24oC during day and night and temperature fluctuations will harm the plant. If the temperature is too low, the leaves will fade. If this does not last long the leaves will soon recover, but if it does last the branches will start to rot. If you expect low temperatures, move the pot to a warmer location.

Its flowers are very similar to calla flowers. They are large, in various tones of white (from snow white to very pale green) and they appear on top of thin long branches in the same way as the leaves. In reality, they are not flowers but differentiated leaves that surround a stemon. These flowers bloom within the first warm months of the year, from early spring until the last warm days of fall and they last for a long time. When they start to die, cut them back as low to the soil as you can reach.

If your plant fails to produce flowers, cut down on watering and move it to a location where it gets more light. Plants who get adequate light, even artificial light, will produce more flowers. Another thing to consider is that spaths like to be a little root-bound in order to produce flowers.

You can repot in spring, preferably after they produce their first flowers but the new pot should be only one size bigger. Remember to add pebbles at the bottom of the pot to ensure excellent drainage. Since spaths grow wider, pots that are wide but not too deep are more suitable, e.g. dish-pots or any shallow container.

While repotting you can propagate your plant through division of the roots but this should only be done once every 2-3 years so that the root system is not overstressed and it will get enough time to recover. Make sure to place the plant at the same level of soil as in its original container.

One of the best advantages spaths have is that they are very resistant to disease and insects. The number one cause of destroying spaths is overwatering which causes root rot.

Clean the leaves as often as you can, the surface and the underside of leaves, using a sponge and lukewarm water in order to remove dust but also because cleaning the leaves will remove any insects before they become a problem.

Another advantage of spaths is that they belong in the NASA list of clean air plants, since it removes dangerous chemicals from our atmosphere, such as formaldehyde, benzol, and carbon monoxide, which are unfortunately present to any house or office.

Good luck with your spathyfyllum!

Mary Efanti




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